by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 16, 2012
Space Exploration Technologies is about to become the first private company to attempt to send its own cargo capsule to the International Space Station and back.
Here are some key facts about the company, known as SpaceX, and its mission.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by billionaire Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal. Musk is also currently the chief executive officer of Tesla Motors which builds and sells electric cars.
The Hawthorne, California-based company's mission is "to revolutionize space transportation in order to eventually make it possible for people to live on other planets."
SpaceX employs more than 1,700 people, including a number of former NASA astronauts.
Launch facilities are at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base; rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas; and offices in Chantilly, Virginia and the US capital, Washington.
The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket stands at a height of 48.1 meters (158 feet) with the Dragon space capsule on top, and is capable of producing one million pounds of thrust in a vacuum.
All structures, engines, avionics and ground systems are designed, manufactured and tested in the United States.
It is named after the Millennium Falcon, the personal spaceship of the Star Wars characters Han Solo and Chewbacca.
The rocket is powered by nine Merlin engines in the first stage and one in the second stage.
Falcon 9 is powered by liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene.
Its first successful launch was on June 4, 2010, followed by a second on December 8, 2010.
Dragon is a reusable spacecraft that was built to carry and return both astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station.
The white capsule stands 4.4 meters (14.4 feet) high and is 3.66 meters (12 feet) in diameter. With its two solar array wings extended, the span is 16.5 meters (54 feet) wide.
Dragon can carry over 3,310 kilograms (7,297 pounds) split between pressurized cargo in the capsule and unpressurized cargo in the trunk.
On this mission, it will carry 521 kilograms (1,148 pounds) of cargo for the space lab and will also aim to return a 660 kg (1,455 lb) load to Earth.
Dragon is also built to carry up to seven astronauts to the ISS on future missions.
The capsule is maneuvered by 18 Draco thrusters powered by nitrogen tetroxide/monomethylhydrazine propellants.
It is protected by the most powerful heat shield in the world, designed in cooperation with NASA and made of a material called PICA-X.
In December 2010, it became the first private spacecraft to reach orbit and back -- a feat previously achieved by only the governments of Russia, the United States and China.
May 19: A single, instantaneous launch opportunity from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is set for 4:55 am (0855 GMT). If that cannot be met, a second opportunity arises on May 22.
May 21: A flyby of the International Space Station is planned for the early morning hours. Live NASA TV coverage begins at 2:30 am (0630 GMT).
May 22: Live coverage of the rendezvous and berthing of the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS begins at 2 am (0600 GMT).
May 23: Live coverage of the hatch opening and entry of the Dragon spacecraft begins at 6 am (1000 GMT).
After about two weeks, the ISS crew will detach it from the space station, and the Dragon will perform a series of engine burns that will move it away from the orbiting lab.
About five hours later, the Dragon should reenter the Earth's atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean, about 450 kilometers (250 miles) off the West Coast of the United States.
NASA TV is viewable at: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html
Launch Pad at Space-Travel.com
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